RIGHT PLACE, RIGHT TIME
NEPAL’S FIRST UNDER SECRETARY-GENERAL
Warren Buffet, the world’s third richest man, has said in an interview about his success: “I was born at the right time at the right place and I was lucky.” My father used to tell me something similar: “The foremost requirement for success is that you have to be at the right time in the right place. If you are competent, it helps.”
You do not have to go far to see this. President Ram Baran Yadav is a burning example. Girija Prasad Koirala was tipped to become the first president of the federal republic of Nepal. But the Maoist leader Prachanda, as always, backed out from his pledge to support him and ran Ramraja Singh as his party’s candidate for the presidency. He also proposed a Maoist candidate for vice president.
Madheshi parties had also jointly fielded their candidate, Paramanand Jha, for vice president. When Koirala approached Madheshi parties for support for his candidate, Madheshi leaders insisted that they would only vote for a Madheshi candidate for president, in exchange for the vote to their vice president. Well, Koirala had to give up his cherished ambition and nominate Yadav who was in the right place at the right time—a Madheshi who was closest to him.
Yadav and Jha were elected president and vice president respectively. That does not, however, undermine the value and sanctity of the exalted posts they hold. These posts are their crowing successes, whether they secured them by accident or otherwise. We should judge them by what they give the country, not by how they schlepped there.
That brings me to the main topic of today. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has recently appointed Gyan Acharya, Nepal’s Permanent Representative to the UN in New York, as High Representative for Least Developed, Landlocked Developing and Small Island Developing States (HRLLS)—as under secretary-general (USG). He is the first USG from Nepal. I am immensely pleased that a fellow Foreign Service official and Nepali national has reached that height in the world body.
Senior UN appointments are highly political. All permanent members of the Security Council impose their nationals for several USG and assistant secretary-general (ASG) posts. Other large and powerful countries such as Japan, Germany, India, Brazil, Mexico, Nigeria, South Africa, etc. and smaller generous financial contributors to extra-budgetary coffers of the United Nations, such as Canada and Scandinavian countries, stake their claim as well. That leaves very few of these senior posts actually available for the rest of the world to compete. And usually small and poor countries have no chance unless there is a niche vacancy only available to them. The post of the HRLLS is one of them.
I know it from experience with the UN Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions where I met and quizzed almost every USG for hours—in many cases several times a year for three year—that Nepal has had many equally qualified and competent people to make excellent USGs. Such names as Rishikesh Shah, Shailendra Upadhaya, Bhekh Thapa, Yadav Silwal, Madhu Acharya, Madan Bhattarai, Durga Bhattarai, Jai Rana, Shambhu Simkhada, Surya Subedi, Rekha Upadhyay Thapa and Jagadish Upadhyay come to mind. There were/are others as well. But Nepal’s candidates were not in the right place at the right time for niche vacancies and Nepal is not strong enough to secure the post elsewhere.
Nothing gets done without trying hard, though. A Nigerian proverb says, “It takes a village to raise a child.” I do not know how much, if any, the “village” —the government with committed officials—tried to promote its candidates to senior UN posts before I joined the Foreign Ministry for the second time in 1993. After I joined, we made a policy to push Nepali nationals for these posts as an integral element of multilateral diplomacy. Some efforts succeeded. For instance, Nepal obtained a couple of UN force commander posts.
Kul Gautam and Balanand Sharma became the first and second ASGs from Nepal.
Other efforts failed. Bhekh Thapa and Kul Gautam sought Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific at different times. But the post went to the nationals of other Asian countries. Shambhu Simkhada tried for Human Rights Commissioner but Canada was given it. The government recommended me for HRLLS when Anwarul Chaudhary of Bangladesh vacated the post, but the post went to Cheick Sidi Diarra of Mali, for African heads of states claimed it for Africa citing the principle of rotation. Mrigendra Raj Pande lost his bid for WHO regional director.
Particularly in the case of HRLLS, the “village” sowed the seeds and nurtured the plant because it presented greater prospects for bearing fruit. To go back to history, the Third UN Conference on Least Developed Countries (LDCs) held in Brussels in 2001 had proposed senior post to champion the cause of these countries. We—I was at the Nepal Mission in New York—actively supported the post’s creation by the UN General Assembly, which added mandates related to landlocked developing countries and small island developing states as well. Although Nepal pushed Kul Gautam the first time, UN Secretary-general Kofi Annan appointed Anwarul Chaudhary, the LDCs group chair in New York, as the first HRLLS.
With this appointment, the position of chair of the LDCs group, which was held by Bangladesh for nearly two decades unopposed became suddenly very lucrative as it was seen as the launching pad for HRLLS. We—I was at the Mission in New York at that time—worked with African LDCs to introduce a system of rotating chair every five-year and agreed to give the post to the African group on the understanding that Nepal will take over from Africa. Bangladesh did not appreciate it.
Benin became the first African country to hold the chair of LDCs, from 2002-07. Nepal presented its candidature for the post to follow Benin. Annan appointed the LDCs group chair and ambassador of Benin, Joel Adechi, as ASG in Ethiopia-Eretria mission, because the post of HRLLS was not vacant. After I left the Mission, Bangladesh also submitted its claim for the LDCs chair because it, like Nepal, viewed it as the path to HRLLS. To sort out the conflict within the region, Bhagirath Basnet, then Acting Foreign Secretary, went to Dhaka as the prime minister’s special envoy.
Bangladesh reluctantly agreed to serve the first two years (2007-09) of the five-year term and Nepal the rest. Gyan Acharya became chair of the group in 2009, soon after he became ambassador in New York. When Cheick Sidi Diarra of Mali completed his term early this year (2007-12), the Nepal government recommended and the Secretary-general Ban Ki-moon appointed Gyan Acharya as HRLLS. Acharya was in the right place at the right time. He was the chair of the LDCs from a landlocked developing country, another important group in the UN. It was Asia’s term in rotation. And Acharya is competent as well.
Nepal has waited for 57 long years since it joined the UN in 1955 to be in the right place at the right time for a USG post. Whether it will have another USG without waiting that long depends on three things. First, whether or not Acharya has planted the seeds for his successor to harvest the crop. Second, whether or not the “village” continues to invest its efforts. Third, whether or not Nepal grows faster to build the capacity to contribute higher extra-budgetary resources to the UN the secretary-general desperately needs to increase its bargaining strength. If these three conditions are not met, Nepal will have to cool its heels for a long time. So let us celebrate Acharya’s success for now.